Sorry guys but this review is geared toward the ladies. And ladies when I say “chick lit”, I’m not talking 50 Shades of Grey chick lit. I’m simply going to review three books about women and their relationships with men. The first is by the popular author of The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan. Her books are always about the troubling relationships between daughters and mothers …and men. Her latest, The Valley of Amazement, is no different. This time it’s about an American girl living during the early 1900’s who travels from San Francisco to Shanghai and then becomes the most popular madam of the most popular “courtesan” house in that jaded city. Lulu Mimi, as she is known, has a daughter that she names Violet. And Violet turns into one very precocious child. She has a ferocious pet cat that terrorizes everyone and she surreptitiously watches as the courtesans ply their trade with both Western and Eastern clients. Of course this being a Tan book, the plot twists and turns, Lulu Mimi is tricked into leaving Violet behind while Lulu Mimi intends for both of them to go to San Francisco, and that is when the story of Violet takes over. I don’t want to give away major plot moves but let’s just say that Violet is forced into a similar position as her mother was when she was young. It is just the beginning of a long and arduous journey that covers four decades moving from Shanghai to New York to San Francisco and into rural China. The journey involves three generations of women that explores their private lives and their private pain. The Valley of Amazement is a picture that Violet’s father had painted for her mother, Lulu Mimi. Each person that views the painting, based upon their own history, finds a different message in that “golden vale”. The only part I found boring was the LENGTHY tutorial that Violet’s tutor puts her through in learning the art of making love to a man. As the reviewer for the New York Times said, ” It’s an array of colorful multi-layered stories given further depth by Tan’s affecting depictions of mothers and daughters as strong women struggling to survive.”
And then we move on to Sydney and Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret. Moriarty’s novel is about secrecy, temptation, guilt, human frailty, obsession and marital malaise. Wow. That’s a lot to cover in one novel but Moriarty does it very cleverly. You’ve got the main couple, Cecilia and John-Paul, whose marriage is, at best, on life support. Then you have Tess whose husband has fallen in love with their business partner and Tess’ best friend/first cousin. Whew. Tess moves back to her home town with her son and soon runs into a hunky ex boyfriend who just happens to be the main suspect in the murder of his 17 year old girl friend back in 1984. The girl’s mother, Rachel, is obsessed with finding her daughter’s killer. As Cecilia confronts her husband’s past, Tess deals with her marital tribulations with a quick affair and Rachel, well, she can’t move on without doing something that will cause the fates of all of the characters to collide. Sometimes the plot is a little too pat and you may feel the ending is ambiguous. But it is edgy and provocative and bold. I think you’ll like it as a “cold winter” day book. Moriarty also wrote What Alice Forgot.
We shall now move to the southern half of the United States brought to you by the inimitable big-hearted story telling of Fannie Flagg with The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. For me, she will never top Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. But I keep reading her novels because I always know she has a story to tell. This time it’s about Mrs. Sookie Poole who is entering her golden years with her husband, Earle. She lives in Point Clear, Alabama, has three daughters, a son and a domineering mother that lives WAY too close by. Sookie anticipated settling down, taking a cruise and spending more time with the love of her life, her husband. But as she says, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.” As she’s making plans for her son’s wedding, she receives a letter from the Texas Board of Health. And her life then goes topsy turvey. Here is where Flagg’s great story telling comes in. As Sookie learns more and more about her mother’s and father’s secret past, she is also learning about hers. What she turns up is something long forgotten in America’s past. And that is the contribution of women during WWII who were trained and used as pilots to ferry planes from point A to point B so that the men could then fly them onto battle ships and then on into battle. As usual, Flagg creates a cadre of unforgettable characters. As the story alternates between Sookie’s discoveries and the adventures and heartaches of the women pilots of the 1940’s, you might find yourself sitting in a comfortable chair and saying to yourself, I wish I knew these ladies…
Other chick lit to contemplate: Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind and the American version, or so they say, of Bridgette Jones, Maria Murnane’s Perfect on Paper: the (Mis)Adventures of Waverly Bryson.